Big news coming out of Pawnee, Indiana. The reunion special of the beloved NBC sitcom Parks & Recreation, which ended its broadcast run five years ago in 2015, will air April 30 on NBC, and a lingering mystery from the series' finale could finally be revealed.
On April 30, NBC will air a new episode of Parks & Recreation that stars everyone from the main cast, plus some special guests. Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Retta, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, and Jim O’Heir all return to reprise their memorable roles. Of the additional faces, series creator Michael Schur told Entertainment Weekly, "The first face you see on camera will not be one of the ten main cast members... and that sort of sets the tone for the show in general."
Shot over iPhone with the entire cast at home and practicing social distancing, the episode will take place in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic but will not feature any characters explicitly suffering from the disease.
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How and where to watch the Parks and Rec 2020 reunion live
The Parks & Recreation reunion special, simply titled "Special" will air Thursday, April 30 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. It will be followed by an airing of the cast's previous reunion from PaleyFest 2019, which commemorated the tenth anniversary of the series. It's unclear if the episode will be available on Hulu, where NBC shows often stream the day after they air.
What will happen in the special? — Series creator Michael Schur said the special takes place in 2020, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, though no one in the show is suffering from it.
"Nobody has had or is currently suffering from Covid-19," Schur told EW. "The whole special is not about the disease, honestly. It's about people coping with it and sort of trying to navigate in their daily lives."
EW revealed that the series will explore the front lines through Rashida Jones' character, Ann, who is a nurse. However, the Parks and Rec reunion is also a chance to answer at least one lingering mystery from the 2015 series finale.
What about President Knope? — Arguably the biggest question looming over the special is one Parks & Rec fans have been asking since the finale. Is Leslie Knope the President of the United States? Given Knope's ambitions illustrated over seven seasons, President seemed like Knope's final form as a public servant.
But the 2015 finale only vaguely gestured towards Knope's term as POTUS as "a new, unknown challenge" that "awaits" her. "Which to me, even now, is thrilling because I love the work," Knope says in one of the show's final scenes, set in 2035 during a speech at Indiana University. It's in that speech Knope also reveals her two terms as Governor of Indiana, which pretty much primes anyone for an even higher seat. An earlier scene, set in 2025, establishes Knope's cozy relationship with powerful democrats, such as Vice President and presumptive democratic nominee Joe Biden who made a cameo appearance in the finale.
The moment in question comes during Jerry's funeral in the show's year 2048 when secret service members approach Leslie and Ben and indicate that it's time to leave. This seemed to suggest that Leslie was president, but it was never totally confirmed.
But did Knope actually become President? It's been a point of debate among fans for years now. Some say yes, Knope was at the very least her way to the presidency. (The closest election year would be 2036, which means Knope could be embarking on her campaign if the graduation ceremony happened in May.) Others wonder if it was actually Ben, Knope's boyfriend and then-husband. In another scene set in 2048, at (ten-time!) Pawnee Mayor Gary Gergich's funeral, a Secret Service agent tells both Ben and Leslie "it's time to go." It is ambiguous as to why the Secret Service is there other than one of them is the President.
In a 2017 interview with HuffPost, Nick Offerman revealed his own take, in that Knope did not become President.
"It takes a very special personality to actually want to become president of the United States," Offerman said. "[T]o me, the president is more like an A-list movie star and there is a lot about that lifestyle that is not attractive to most people, and I think Leslie would be one of those people."
Will the special give us an answer? — Right now, Michael Schur insists the episode will focus only on 2020 and that it will not include any elements about future events in the show's canon.
"Ordinarily you can just make everything up and start from scratch, but we had already said what had happened to everyone in years past, and so we had to go back and retrofit everything and make sure it made sense," Schur confirmed to EW. The magazine clarifies the show "wouldn't involve any winks to the future the finale laid out for the characters."
Still, this reunion, born out of unexpected and unpleasant circumstances, can't satisfy fans without giving additional closure to its character's stories. The original finale was as satisfying as any TV ending can be, but the opportunity to revisit the characters and nod towards their future is irresistible and primed to cause new wrinkles for fans to think and debate over for years to come.
The Parks & Recreation 2020 reunion special will air Thursday, April 30 on NBC at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.